Following through on a threat that rattled the music business and kick-started industrywide conversations about artistic ownership, Taylor Swift announced on Thursday that she would release a newly recorded version of “Fearless,” her second and most successful album, as part of a long-term plan to control her old songs outright.
“This process has been more fulfilling and emotional than I could’ve imagined and has made me ever more determined to re-record all of my music,” said the singer, 31, in a statement on social media. She added that the rollout of her rerecordings would begin at midnight with the release of a fresh take on the song “Love Story” — now called “Love Story (Taylor’s Version)” — her first Billboard Top 10 single, just in time for Valentine’s Day.
“Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” will be released April 9 and feature 26 songs total, including hits like “You Belong With Me” and “Fifteen,” along with six unreleased tracks written when Swift was a teenager. “‘Fearless’ was an album full of magic and curiosity, the bliss and devastation of youth,” Swift wrote.
First released in 2008 by the Nashville label Big Machine, “Fearless” represented Swift’s mainstream breakthrough outside of country music and won four Grammy Awards, including album of the year, on its way to selling more than 10 million copies in the United States. Like most artists, Swift did not then control the rights to her recordings, which belonged to the label, though she held some ownership, along with her songwriting collaborators, of the separate rights for her songs’ compositions, known as publishing.
In 2019, not long after Swift signed a different contract with Universal Music Group that gave her the rights to her masters moving forward, the powerful music executive Scooter Braun purchased Big Machine — and with it, the master recordings to Swift’s first six multiplatinum albums — in a $300 million deal that included an investment from the private-equity firm Carlyle Group.
At the time, Swift said that the deal “stripped me of my life’s work,” and put her catalog “in the hands of someone who tried to dismantle it.” (Braun, who represents artists like Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande, previously worked with Kanye West, a longtime rival of Swift’s; she accused Braun of “incessant, manipulative bullying,” which he denied.) Her fans reacted with a public pressure campaign on social media.
Swift’s back catalog has since changed hands again: Braun’s company Ithaca Holdings sold the rights to Swift’s music — the albums “Taylor Swift,” “Fearless,” “Speak Now,” “Red,” “1989” and “Reputation” — to Shamrock Capital, an investment firm founded by Roy E. Disney, a nephew of Walt Disney, for more than $300 million. Swift said she declined an offer to partner with Shamrock, citing Braun’s continued financial involvement.
But before the second sale, Swift had already indicated that she planned to create a new set of master recordings that closely matched the ones she did not own, thus potentially devaluing the original assets.
The owner of a master recording controls its use, including selling albums or licensing songs for movies, television, advertisements or video games. While an artist may still earn royalties on those recordings, record companies have historically retained rights to masters in exchange for the financial risks they take in supporting and promoting an artist.
By creating new master recordings of her older songs, Swift, one of the most powerful celebrities in music and beyond, cannot only urge her loyal legions of fans to stream and buy the versions she owns, but may also encourage brands, filmmakers and other potential corporate partners to avoid using the originals. In December, Swift previewed the new “Love Story” in an ad for the dating service Match.
Swift is not the first artist to try such a maneuver, though she may be the highest profile and most dedicated to the project. Standard recording contracts typically include terms that bar artists from releasing rerecorded work for three to five years, or more, from its initial release — restrictions that became common after the Everly Brothers put out fresh versions of past hits on a new label in the early 1960s.
Since then, the band Def Leppard released what it called “forgeries” of its biggest hits during a dispute with its label, while the pop singer Jojo put out newly recorded versions of her first two albums, which were not available on streaming services, in 2018, after her rerecording clauses ran out.
Swift said on “Good Morning America” in 2019 that her contracts allowed for her to rerecord her first five albums beginning in November 2020. “I think that artists deserve to own their work,” she said. “I just feel very passionately about that.”
Artists including Prince, Janet Jackson and Jay-Z had previously emphasized the importance of musicians owning their own masters; Swift’s public missives on the issue seemed to revitalize the conversation for a new generation. In 2018, upon leaving Big Machine, where she first signed at age 15, Swift announced a multi-album agreement with Universal Music Group and its subsidiary, Republic Records, where she would own her recordings.
That deal covered “Lover,” from 2019, and Swift’s two pandemic albums from last year, “Folklore” and “Evermore.” The singer has six nominations at the Grammys next month, including album of the year for “Folklore” — her fourth career nod in that category and possibly her third win.